By Murray Silby
NT Thunder faces a tough task if it’s to turn around its form in NEAFL’s Round 6 this weekend.
Thunder travels to Queensland where it will take on the reigning premier, Southport, which is sitting second on the NEAFL ladder, undefeated after four games.
Troubling for coach Darren Reeves is the one-sided scorelines for each of Thunder’s three losses, including its 70-point loss to Gold Coast last week, which was mostly due to the Suns booting nine goals-to-one in the first quarter. That was the Suns’ first ever win at TIO Stadium after nine years of trying.
Speaking after last week’s loss, Reeves said the first quarter was “horrible” and it was “frustrating” that the team had fallen back into some of the bad habits displayed in the first couple of games.
Those bad habits included players not playing their roles, he said, being “smashed” around the contest and being “exposed” on the outside.
Thunder’s competitiveness improved markedly in the final three quarters and Reeves will be looking to see that side of his team for a full four quarters at Fankhauser Reserve on Saturday.
Like the Gold Coast, Southport also recorded a first in its last start, winning at Blacktown in Sydney for the first time with a 42-point win over Sydney University.
Thunder will have its hands full with Sharks onballers Andrew Boston and Matt Shaw in fine form against the Students, recording 32 and 31 disposals respectively. While up forward, Lee Dale and Jamison Shea each kicked three goals in the game against Sydney University.
Far from being daunted though, versatile Thunder small man, Ben Rioli said playing the defending champions is a perfect time to turn the club’s form around.
“There’s no better time than against the reigning premiers in Southport,” he said. “I’m actually really, really excited for the game this weekend because we can actually show what we’re about and I think we will this weekend.”
Rioli said it’s been a frustrating season for the club so far.
“It’s been pretty frustrating so far, honestly,” he suggested. “We had two really bad results to start the year off and then we had a bye, which came at a good time and then we came back and had a good win, but then we put out a performance that we did on the weekend, which is almost a massive step backwards, so overall, pretty disappointing, but hopefully we can turn things around this week.”
Rioli said the NEAFL has improved to such a point that teams can’t afford any lapses of concentration in a game.
“One bad quarter, that’s all you need in games of footy these days, especially in the NEAFL competition,” he explained. “It’s improved so much.
“If you’re not on for the first 20 minutes of the game you don’t get back in. That’s it. It’s just amazing that a little lapse in concentration and they put nine goals on us so fingers crossed it doesn’t happen again because it’s pretty disappointing.”
Rioli has become known as a running defender for Thunder, launching runs out of the backline and setting up attacks further afield.
This year, though, Reeves has had him spending more time in the midfield.
“They’ve tried to push me through the midfield a bit more, which I’ve enjoyed,” he said.
“I’ve enjoyed my time through the midfield and I hope I get a bit more time in there. It’s where I used to play as a kid and it’s only as I got older that I started playing defence.
“I love playing in the backline, but I like footy because you can get thrown all over the place, but I really do enjoy being in the middle.”
And what about a permanent move onto the ball and perhaps relegating brother, and one of two Thunder co-captains, Shannon, into defence?
“I don’t think he could play as a defender,” Rioli said with a smile.
NEAFL Round 6: Southport vs NT Thunder – 1.30pm Saturday 11 May, Fankhauser Reserve, Southport, QLD